Local biogas plant shows circularity in practice

At the Svanem biogas plant in Hellandsjøen in Heim municipality, biogas and high-quality biofertilizer are produced based on local bioresources. The founder behind the village facility is the local farmer Roar Svanem. Svanem biogas is a case being studied as part of the Circle project.

Svanem biogas had its first operating year in 2021, but planning started many years earlier. The biogas plant is a so-called village plant, unlike pure farm plants and regional factories such as Ecopro in Verdal. The production is based on sludge from local hatcheries and manure from farmers in the village and is one of the first in the country of this size. One of the products from the factory is high-quality organic fertilizer, which is circulated back to the local farmers who also supply livestock manure.

– The main idea all along has been that this should be local, says Roar Svanem, local farmer and biogas entrepreneur.

– The operation is based on sludge from hatcheries in the region and manure from local farmers being mixed and fed into the reactors, which then produce biogas. The bioresidue that remains after the gas has been extracted is processed and turned into fertilizer that the farmers in the village can spread on the fields, Svanem explains.

– This example, and other examples of circular economy in practice, is something we and researchers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are studying in Circle, explains researcher Jostein Brobakk.

During a company visit in the spring of 2023, the research community and other interested parties were given a tour of the facility in Hellandsjøen, and an explanation of the technology and the thoughts behind it. The reactor technology in such biogas plants imitates the cow cavity, by separating the methane-based gas from the biomass and getting two different products as output.  The gas is considered green and can be used to create electricity or replace other fossil energy sources, while the bio residue can replace both ordinary animal manure and artificial fertilizer. Here, the mixing of sludge from the hatcheries plays an important role, as it increases the amount of biogas that can be produced and the quality of the fertilizer component.

– Everything happens within a radius of a few kilometres, explains Roar Svanem. Distances are short, and all bioresources are utilized locally. It is good for the climate, good for local sustainability, and has given the opportunity to start businesses based on local bioresources.

Svanem praises Heim municipality for its great goodwill, the knowledge environments at Nibio on Ås and Norsøk on Tingvoll, and the support schemes that Innovation Norway manages.

In the Norwegian Environment Agency’s latest measures report Climate measures in Norway until 2030. it refers to measures to ensure that 25 per cent of livestock manure is used for biogas in 2030. But for now, disposing of the gas from plants of this size is a major challenge. There is relatively little infrastructure that supports transport and distribution outside the big cities so that the transport sector can replace diesel with biogas from agriculture, and there is a lack of public support schemes that exist in other countries.

– In Sweden and Denmark, biogas plants receive operating support. In addition to distorting competition, it makes it more predictable for new actors who want to start up biogas plants, explains Roar Svanem.

Roar Svanem, founder and general manager at Svanem biogas, explains and demonstrates some of the technology in the factory (Photo: Jostein Brobakk)